Aside from Judas Iscariot, Inquisition (sort of), Xasthur, and a few other names, black metal from the United States isn’t normally mentioned when tossing around notable black metal artists. And regardless of what people might say, the black metal scene in the USA doesn’t have much to speak for. Yeah, we have A LOT of black metal bands/artists spawning from our capitalist landscapes, but most of them are…well…shit! We’ve had a few fantastic names pop up over the course of two-ish decades, some of them even getting very popular! Fantastic bands like Wolves in the Throne Room, Ceremonial Castings, Agalloch, Inquinok, Leviathan, Lightning Swords of Death, Castevet, Valdur, Lost Inside, Lamentations of the Ashen, and quite a few others have come out of the states. But the sheer number of pathetically short-lived and/or repulsively bad black metal bands that are from here have really poisoned the country’s reputation and reliability.
In 2010, some moron from Boston that calls himself Barghast started a solo project called Word of Unmaking. No idea where that went, but a year later, Barghast teamed up with one of his drummer buddies and started a black metal duo known as Grue (Barghast being on vocals and guitar). The first piece of material that Grue released was in 2012 on a split with none other than Word of Unmaking. Okay, well I guess having your band be on a split with your solo project isn’t something that’s done every day so…points for creativity! Have I heard this split? Fuck no; I’m not even here to talk about that. What I’m here to talk about is the piece of material that spawned out of the decision that Barghast wanted to get serious with Grue and see what he could do with it.
Part of the reason the United States black metal scene is so weak is because of the lack of solid generic bands. In order to have a house, you need a strong platform to build it on. The USA has A LOT of progressive black bands and this new “post-black” bullshit, but very few truly great bands that stick to the pure black metal sound. Grue is one of those bands. These two dipshits are what we need, people that KNOW how to play black metal. If there’s any new band you should be watching, it’s these guys right here. This record has anything you could ask for, whether it be melody, thrashy parts, blast beats, droning, atmosphere, etc. The duo doesn’t bother with a droning intro you might be used to hearing from new bands; they just go straight into playing at full-force. But unlike something Gorgoroth or Enthroned might do, there’s a lot of melody involved in what they’re doing. If you listen through the repeated crashing of the cymbals in the first 30 seconds of the opening track, you can hear the base melody that’s used throughout the song; and it’s not some corny or simple black metal riff. It’s just the right amount of melody to keep their music from being tasteless and dry as well as avoiding going down the Wolves in the Throne Room path.
My favorite thing about this album is the drummer. A common issue that comes up in this style of music is having a drummer that can only play one pattern. The constant blast beats have given black metal a hard time due to how irritating it can get. The drummer on this record is AMAZING. His blast beats are perfect, don’t get me wrong there, but he does SO MUCH MORE! He primarily follows the “3 different drum patterns on the same speed, then change the speed and do 3 patterns on that speed”, but he constantly throws in random surprises that do the opposite of make the music predictable. He never falls out of time, his technique is superb, and his creativity is to the point of being one of the best black metal drummers I’ve heard in years! Along with the atmosphere and complex melody, the drummer is definitely the main highlight of Casualty of the Psychic Wars.
An issue that I have with music in general is monotony. I NEED there to be variety within the song. Even in grindcore, I require changes in tempo and pattern. That’s why I love Wormrot, Pig Destroyer, Fuck the Facts, Gridlink, Rotten Sound, and Napalm Death so much, they aren’t constant mayhem and speed; they add MORE to it. Grue is an example of a black metal band that has everything you could expect to hear along with a plethora of surprises and interesting variations that make them interesting.
Those of you that like to be extra critical on the vocals, this guy isn’t the absolute best, but he’s not shitty even in the slightest sense. He sounds a lot like the vocalist for Kvelertak; having a lot of voice, power, emotion, and sort of a mid-range tone. Lyrical content…I have no fucking idea, but I just bought the CD (and a shirt) the other day, and the online description said the CD contained lyrics, so I guess I’ll find out then and probably add them to a few of those online metal encyclopedias since no one seems to know (and in my case) or care about the lyrics.
Grue’s Casualty of the Psychic Wars is what I consider to be the best debut album of 2013. So if you’ve still got your panties in a knot about Rivers of Nihil, Lost Society, Essence of Datum, and all those other awesome debuts that were released last year, drop your fucking shit and listen to Grue because it may change your mind. This record is anything but tasteless and boring. It has substance, color, emotion, variety, skill, talent, creativity, grimness, and some of the best fucking musicianship you’ll ever hear from a black metal record. Everything about this album is 100% flawless. This is a perfect debut, which means that the bar has been set pretty damn high for whenever they release their next album (hopefully soon). Give this a listen, obviously the score is 20/20.